Infertility might seem like an unusual topic for Newy with Kids but it’s one that I’m intimately aware of. It took me a few years to get pregnant and it was a rollercoaster of a ride, both physically and mentally.
Infertility: My Journey and How I Coped
I know that there are other readers out there who are trying to conceive. Whether it’s your first child or subsequent children that you’re trying to conceive, it’s an overwhelming ordeal. In this article, I want to share my story of infertility and the techniques I used to cope.
When I met my partner, he had already had two adult children from his previous marriage and not expecting to have anymore, had undergone a vasectomy. When I met him, I was aware of his “snip” but we were assured by fertility specialist Dr Andrew Hedges that through IVF and surgically extracted sperm, there was no reason why we couldn’t conceive a child together. He was right but it took a long time due to some unforeseen complications.
During the course of our first IVF treatment, it turned out that I had a huge impediment in getting pregnant due to an undiagnosed case of severe endometriosis. This is a condition in which endometrial tissue grows outside the womb and can interfere with conception. This diagnosis required major abdominal surgery and months of recovery before IVF commenced again. We tried more cycles (all negative) and then further diagnosis only to realise that the endometriosis had aggressively returned and more surgery would be required.
This was also the time that it became apparent to me that there was a strong likelihood that I wouldn’t be able to conceive. I have to hand it to Dr Hedges. He was very patient when I cried my way through lots of tissues in his office as he explained the complexities of my case of endometriosis. This time, he referred me to his colleague, an incredibly talented specialist in Sydney, Dr Danny Chou who performed keyhole surgery to remove further endometrial tissue.
These are some coping techniques that helped with my journey.
Learn More About Fertility
If you’re not conceiving naturally, find out more about your fertility. Caution – don’t rely on Google for medical advice. There’s loads of incorrect information out there. A book that I recommend is Zita West’s Fertility and Conception. It explains all you need to know about conceiving and has chapters about assisted reproduction.
I also found Fully Fertile by Tamara Quinn, Elisabeth Heller and Jeannie Lee Bussell useful as it contained a home-based yoga program and mind/body/spirit practices designed to improve chances of conceiving. This book explores the connection between mental and physical health.
For endometriosis, I can’t recommend enough Dian Shepperson Mills’ book Endometriosis: A Key to Healing and Fertility Through Nutrition. Mills explains how diet and lifestyle changes can have a massive impact for those suffering from endometriosis.
If conceiving naturally isn’t working for you or you have medical conditions that preclude a natural conception, visit your GP. They may be able to do testing, prescribe fertility drugs or refer you to assisted reproduction such as IVF.
If you end up needing IVF, ask your friends for their recommendations about doctors and what they liked and disliked about their treatments. And remember you can always get a second opinion, if you’re not happy with your treatment. In fact, I recommend it.
Get in Touch With Your Emotions
The infertility journey is one filled with many emotions: anger, bitterness, jealousy, sadness, defeat, hope, envy, and depression. Write, sing, craft, dance, cry – do whatever you need to do to express your emotions. I started a diary and wrote to get all of the emotions out on paper. I found it incredibly cathartic. Looking back, I didn’t realise how sad and depressed I was. It was only when I read my diary years later that I realise that depression had set in.
Also, the IVF hormones can magnify the effects of your already shaky emotions. I remember having the overwhelming urge to scream at a driver who took up two parking spaces in The Junction carpark with her massive SUV. Blame the IVF drugs for my mood swings. Thank goodness for my acupuncturist who quickly stuck some needles in me and calmed me down.
I found it incredibly hard to be around pregnant women while I was trying to conceive. I know it’s sounds horrible and terribly bitchy but it was difficult for me to feel joy for someone else while my efforts of getting pregnant were just so negative. I avoided places where I would see loads of mums and mums-to-be. The pathway between Bar Beach and Merewether became out of bounds due to the number of pregnant women and mums with prams who were enjoying the popular coastal walk.
I also avoided baby showers as I knew there was a strong possibility that I would end up in tears especially when other people would start asking when I was planning to start a family. I figured sending a card and a nice present was more than enough.
Speak About It To Those You Trust
You might want to consider sharing your emotions with someone. Speak to someone that you trust such as friend, counsellor, psychologist or join an infertility support group. Trying to conceive can be such a struggle and it’s worthwhile to speak to someone who can listen and suggest coping techniques.
In terms of sharing my struggles of infertility, I only told a few friends I was trying to conceive. I didn’t want others to know about what we were going through as I felt it was a private matter. I didn’t even tell my boss at work. And yes, I had to come up with lots of inventive excuses to explain why I needed to pop out for yet another appointment when we were undergoing IVF.
Of course, it’s hard to keep anything a secret in Newcastle. I remember being in the waiting room of the IVF clinic and recognising someone I knew. We pretended not to see each other. Years later after both conceiving through IVF, we laugh about ignoring each other.
Read About Other People’s Experiences about Infertility
Reading about other people’s journey also helped me while I was trying to conceive. Some of the stories resulted in babies while others weren’t so fruitful. This helped to prepare me for some of the setbacks along the way.
I also clipped out a column written by local psychologist Tarnya Davis published in the Newcastle Herald weekend magazine and kept it with my IVF diary. This short column called Beyond Conception summed up my feelings about my struggle to conceive. It was so reassuring to read what others were going through as it matched my experiences.
Julie and others who experience challenges with fertility speak about being in a perpetual state of grief. They grieve for the loss of children they suspect they will never have, yet cannot grieve fully, as each month offers another opportunity for hope. Couples describe being in limbo, experiencing repeated frustration at the loss of control and invasion of medical procedures, being buoyed by hope then crushed with each negative pregnancy test.
Years later, I unexpectedly met Tarnya at a workshop and explained how much her words helped during this time.
Consider Alternative Therapies
Considering using relaxation techniques such as yoga, massage, meditation and acupuncture. Relaxation techniques can help with your body and mind. I found that mediation helped me quiet the voices in my head and gave me some time for reflection and hope. In addition, I used acupuncture throughout my IVF journey after reading about how it can increase chances of fertility.
Plan for Negative Results
For me, the hardest thing about IVF was the negative result each time we underwent a cycle. We would be so hopeful thinking this time we would receive a positive result and when it didn’t happen, it would devastate me. I started to organise something that would cheer me up even it was something small like buying flowers, getting a massage or going out for dinner.
Nurture Your Relationship
In terms of your relationship, infertility can place a heavy toll on it. It’s easy to vent at your partner especially when you’re the one undergoing the physically harrowing procedures involved in IVF. I have to be honest and admit that I lashed out at my partner a couple of times. I know it was a challenge for my husband to see me under emotional and physical stress and he tried his best to support me. It seemed that our lives just revolved around trying to get pregnant and it was sapping us of joy and slowly eroding our relationship. I could tell we were drifting apart.
On one occasion when it got all too hard after yet another negative result, my husband and I visited Coffs Harbour where we headed off in different directions at the beach to have some time by ourselves. I remember sitting on Mooney Mooney beach bawling my eyes out, just so tired and beaten down. We later reunited that afternoon and by mutual agreement, didn’t discuss anything to do with conceiving for the rest of the holiday. After that trip, we decided to organise some “date nights” and fun weekends away to bring some normalcy back into our relationship.
Know When To Stop
After such a journeys of ups and downs, I made a difficult decision that the July 2009 IVF cycle would be our last. I just didn’t have the physical or mental strength to keep going. I was so over being injected with hormones, endless blood tests and multiple ultrasounds.
I prepared myself as best as I could for a negative result, aware that it would mean the end of our dream to have a baby together.
In order to deal with the potential soul-crushing conclusion to our IVF journey, I instead put my energy into planning a trip to Japan in the event that we received a negative result. I spent days working out an itinerary and researching flights just to avoid thinking about how devastated I would feel if our dream of having a baby couldn’t happen. A trip to Japan seemed like a worthy consolation prize and hopefully would stop me from spiralling further into depression.
So it was shock, elation and overwhelming happiness when we received a positive result and nine months later, our little girl arrived.
Although my story has an eventual happy ending, it was a tumultuous journey of tears, disappointment and setbacks. I just wanted to share my experiences so that it might help other readers who are facing infertility issues.
Did you have problems conceiving? What helped for you?
It seemed that getting me pregnant was a global affair. So desperate was my family to help me achieve my dream of having a child, they enlisted extra help. My mother-in-law arranged for her Irish cousin’s church congregation in Dublin to pray for me. This was a lovely gesture organised by Michael and Gertie especially considering I’m not Catholic.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, unbeknownst to me, my mother decided to do a traditional fertility ritual on my behalf. She was visiting India and had heard about a village in Punjab that was renowned for its fertility tree, a massive tree in which visitors tied baby cradles to its branches. According to legend, this offering would result in conception of a baby. So guess whose mum tied a cradle to the tree? But as she points out, her granddaughter was conceived the following year.
I have to be honest and mention that I also did my own offerings as well even though I’m not at all religious. The year before we embarked on IVF, I burnt my fair share of joss sticks at Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia praying for fertility success. It seems that these prayers worked by providing much-needed hope.
As a tribute to these efforts, my daughter ended up with an Indian first name and an Irish middle name.